Traditional air travel tickets on the way out

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 December, 2006, 12:00am

HK agents to switch fully to online issue by end of next year

Paper airline tickets will become a thing of the past by the end of next year when Hong Kong travel agents switch over fully to e-tickets.

Of the 4.8 million tickets issued last year, more than half were e-tickets. Up to 70 per cent of tickets issued so far this year were electronic.

Unlike paper tickets, e-tickets are more convenient because they bypass the time-consuming delivery of a paper document and are sent directly to the traveller by e-mail.

E-tickets are also cheaper. It has been estimated it costs HK$10 to issue a traditional ticket, whereas an e-ticket costs HK$1.

But this added convenience also comes at a price. Tommy Tam, convenor of the Travel Industry Council's ticketing committee, warns that e-tickets make agents more vulnerable to fraud.

He said some agents might stipulate payment in cash in advance of issuing the ticket to avoid being left out of pocket by bounced cheques or outright non-payment. Tickets are rarely paid for by credit card, since most agents levy a 2 per cent surcharge for their use.

Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (Iata), the global body representing airlines, is set to cut the 15-day period passengers are allowed before confirming seats booked by agents.

At present, passengers can change their travel plans, or cancel them, during that period without charge.

The new rules, set to take effect in April, require that tickets be confirmed on the day they are booked.

Francis Au Yeung Man-bun, convenor of Hong Kong Tourism Concern, said passengers who needed to change their itineraries would have to cancel their flights and book new ones. They would incur a HK$250 penalty.

He warned that, in some cases, an agent might also ask passengers to pay the full price of the tickets they had cancelled, on top of the cost of the new tickets.

Passengers would have to wait up to six months for a refund for the cancelled flights.

Mr Au Yeung said this was unfair, especially to tourists who bought packages, because the agent also had to book their accommodation - and some hotels took up to three days to confirm this.

'It's absolutely mad for them to implement something like that without actually thinking about the consequences,' he said.

The rule, aimed at combating fraud, was to have taken effect two months ago, but has been postponed twice because of opposition from travel agents worldwide.

Francis Bagarman, chairman of the Society of Iata Passenger Agents, said he had written to the association to demand a full explanation. Other groups are seeking a relaxation of the refund policy.